TV5MONDE: What political significance can we give to the support given by the European Union to France, in the current crisis between it and the United States, Australia and Great Britain?
Benjamin Hautecoverage: The European Union’s support is welcome political and diplomatic support, as at the end of last week the EU presented its strategy for the Indo-Pacific, which had been requested by the European Council in April 2021. ; and on which France has been very active during the year 2020. Therefore, the support of the EU indicates a desire to move forward together with France.
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The opposite would have been very boring, insofar as it would have added division to division. Because we are already witnessing a division between allied countries. If the EU had also shown signs of division in this affair, it would have led to a total cacophony for European interests, and Western interests more broadly, in the Indo-Pacific zone. On the political level, this is therefore good news which “limits the damage” in a certain way.
TV5MONDE: Could this new Indo-Pacific alliance between the United States, Australia and Great Britain have strategic implications for the European Union? And if so, which ones?
Benjamin Hautecoverage: To be able to answer this question, it would be necessary to know precisely what is in the Australian, American and British strategy. However, for the moment, we do not know enough about it. It is perhaps a little early to speak of non-complementarity, non-coordination, competition, even competition.
It is quite possible in a second stage that the EU, and France in particular, coordinate with the Americans, the British and the Australians, so that the strategies move forward in a coherent manner. For now, there seems to be a very dimension confrontational in American diplomacy in the Indo-Pacific, against China, which is absent from French and European strategies. It can be a lever for the Anglo-Saxon strategy in the Indo-Pacific to be less brutal.
And from this point of view, it will be a good exercise to see to what extent the European countries can model the Anglo-Saxon strategy in the direction of competition, rather than that of confrontation. The French presidency of the EU between January and June 2022 will be a good opportunity to see if the EU has the political and diplomatic capacity to influence Anglo-Saxon strategy. But at this point, I don’t think anyone can tell. This is, let’s say, an issue for common diplomacy.
TV5MONDE: For what reasons do you think the United States chose to conclude this security pact with Australia and Great Britain, behind the back of France, which is nevertheless a long-standing ally, particularly in the within NATO?
Benjamin Hautecoverage: As always with the United States, the industrial and commercial factor is decisive. Signing a contract for the supply of nuclear submarines, against French conventional submarines, is a way of establishing oneself in a very competitive market. It is also, of course, a way of reaffirming a long-standing alliance with Australia, a country which has shown in recent years a desire for independence from the United States.
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There is therefore both a very strong industrial will, and the affirmation of a politico-strategic hold on a key ally in the Pacific. In the same way that the United States can exert very strong pressure on Japan or South Korea, to take two other strategic allies, but this time in Northeast Asia.
TV5MONDE: After imposing his chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan on the Europeans, US President Joe Biden is taking the risk of alienating the countries of the European Union with this submarine crisis. Are we witnessing the reaffirmation of the American hyperpower and, perhaps, the end of the multilateralism so dear to the UN?
Benjamin Hautecoverage: The end of multilateralism has been talked about for a long time. Multilateralism has been in trouble since the start of the 2010s. For the rest, we know that the United States is in a slightly more complex relationship than it was in the past, vis-à-vis towards their European allies and their security interests in Europe.
Even if I am one of those who think that the United States are not in the process of disengaging from Europe, but that they are rebalancing their commitments to take note of the change of century, and the transformation of American strategic interests in the Indo-Pacific.
But I agree that it is a manifestation of the American hyperpower, at the precise moment when it is beginning to waver under the effect of Chinese pressure but also of other regional competitors, in more specialized segments. Obviously, the brutal way of dealing with this strategic dossier paradoxically indicates a feverishness in the United States.
TV5MONDE: Former US President Donald Trump called for a rebalancing within NATO. At the London summit in December 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron called for strategic reflection on the necessary transformation of the Atlantic Alliance. What could be the consequences of the current crisis on the necessary evolution of balances within NATO?
Benjamin Hautecoverage: This necessary evolution, in reality, does not date from Donald Trump, or even from Barack Obama. It dates from George W. Bush. So, this rebalancing has been in question for a very long time. And a certain number of EU countries, including France, have taken note of this since the start of the 2010s, by proposing to accelerate the movement of the EU towards its strategic autonomy.
This is also a reality which is not new, but which is based on the European summits of the end of the 1990s, and which translates into operational decisions. On the other hand, the attitude of the United States since Donald Trump, and today with what is happening in the Australian affair, only adds grist to the mill of those, in particular the French, who demand an acceleration of the strategic empowerment of our continent, to balance European security and defense capabilities with those of the Atlantic Alliance.
From this point of view, and just before the French presidency of the EU, in a way it is “good news”; in other words, it can only favor those who push for more strategic autonomy in terms of capabilities, in a European debate that remains contrasted.
TV5MONDE: How can the EU exist today in an ever more uncertain global context, with multiple and increasingly multifaceted threats?
Benjamin Hautecoverage: The EU is adapting by adopting various and varied security strategies, the major global security strategy of 2016, strategies on more sectoral issues, such as cyber threats and risks, the Indo-Pacific strategy which comes to be revealed at the end of last week in Brussels. The Union therefore takes note of the need for the 27 States to act not only internally, legally and politically, but also as a new global strategic player.
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From this point of view, there is still much to do naturally. But the decisions that have been taken for the 27 EU countries to increase defense and security budgets, the various instruments of integration that are at work between the countries of the Union, show us that few Little by little, in a chaotic, difficult way, the EU is taking the measure of the need for it to become an autonomous strategic actor.
And this is done with a lot of difficulty, a visibility that is quite difficult to have, because in the mysteries of the EU nothing is simple, when the decision is taken to make it operational it is long and difficult. It’s tedious, but the movement is on the move, and events like this submarine crisis can only help. This may be a blessing in disguise, if we know how to mobilize our partners around the Indo-Pacific issue.